Translate: Sae | Proofread: Anasofia
Class 5 was the most powerful team last year after all. Although Jiang Cheng and Gu Fei were caught off guard because they were not psychologically prepared to be suddenly on the court, they slowly adapted after running for several rounds, and even had targeted defense against them.
Unlike Class 8, which only relied on two main players’ cooperation, Class 5 had no particularly top-notch players, but their skills were even out that even the substitutes were better than Wang Xu.
Sometimes, Jiang Cheng thought that it was pretty amazing that, in any school and in any grade, there was always a situation where the ballplayers concentrated in only a certain class or two.
In the few minutes before their opponents recovered their attention, he and Gu Fei quickly scored until there was only a difference of one point. During that period, Class 5 had only scored two points once. After Jiang Cheng scored a three-point throw, Gu Fei continued with a layup, scoring another point that caused nearly all the audience at the side of the court to reach the peak of excitement.
There probably was not that much excitement in watching Class 5 and Class 2; after all, Class 8 was a weak little chick born out of nowhere, so for Class 5 to only score once after several minutes against them was a rare occasion.
Most importantly, this was a single-elimination competition1, and the direct end of losing was to join the audience.
In the first elimination match, the weakest chicken team losing would hold no significance, but for a team that could enter the finals to lose, now that, that would be simply brilliant – the dark horse2 was well-received by the melon-eating masses!3
“We can win!”
When Class 5 called for a time-out, Wang Xu, who was glowing with vigor, had some water and said, “Shit, we can win! We definitely can…”
“Stop the bullshit and don’t waste time.” Jiang Cheng didn’t even give the Captain any face and just interrupted him. “Guo Xu, you rest. Switch in that person over there.”
“Who?” Wang Xu asked.
“Him.” Jiang Cheng pointed to one of their substitute players, who although didn’t have any skills, was surprisingly quick on his feet. “Don’t do anything else and just keep a close eye on that one… who’s that, the smallest person on their team.”
“This is Zhang Yuan,” Wang Xu said. “And the smallest one over there is Tang Xiwei.”
“En, Zhang Yuan, keep an eye on Tang Xi,” Jiang Cheng said. “You’re fast so follow him, and you can break the rules. If you can’t block him, just push him but don’t make it so obvious. Don’t give him a chance to touch the ball, but if he has the ball in his hand, don’t touch him.”
“Okay,” Zhang Yuan nodded. “His name is Tang Xiwei, not Tang Wei.”4
“I know,” Jiang Cheng responded. “It’s more advantageous for us if Tang Wei doesn’t get the ball since he has passed over half the balls that scored so far.”
“Then, what about us?” Wang Xu asked.
“That… Li Yata5 has already broken the rules twice.” Jiang Cheng simply ignored him and looked at Gu Fei. “Let him do it once or twice more.”
“En.” Gu Fei drank some water, “Li Ya… Dong.”
“What about me?” Wang Xu asked a little more obviously this time.
“Captain.” Jiang Cheng pulled his wrist guard, “If someone comes to interfere with me when I have the ball, you can deal with him…”
“Alright! No problem!” Wang Xu patted his own chest.
“Also, our returned defense is too slow,” Jiang Cheng said. “Didn’t we already practice this during our training… when the opponent goes into offense, we have to immediately return to our basket. Two at the three-second lane, everyone else, go to the three-point line and don’t let them get through.”
“Understood! Keep up that fighting spirit! What we practiced will be used now,” Wang Xu said and patted everyone’s shoulder, however, when he got to Jiang Cheng, he cautiously passed over him. He finally got to Gu Fei and patted his shoulder, “Da Fei, keep up that fighting spirit!”
“En.” Gu Fei glanced at him.
“Water?” someone asked from beside Jiang Cheng.
He turned his head and saw Yi Jing holding a bottle of water. First, she glanced at Gu Fei who was drinking water, and then she turned to look at Jiang Cheng.
“Thanks.” Jiang Cheng took the bottle from her hand and twisted off the cap for a drink.
“You guys played so well,” Yi Jing said in a small voice. “Everyone in the class was never this excited before.”
Jiang Cheng smiled but didn’t speak.
Indeed, they played pretty well. His and Gu Fei’s forceful cooperation in acting cool could be very inspirational, but… it could also draw in hatred.
He turned to glance at Class 5 and saw several people staring at them with fire blazing in their eyes.
When Li Yata’s eyes met his, both his hands suddenly rose. He stuck out his middle fingers and pointed them in his direction.
After giving him the finger, he didn’t withdraw his eyes and instead continued to viciously stare at him.
Jiang Cheng didn’t react. He was rarely angry on the court since bringing in your emotions during a competition was a taboo.
However, inciting your opponent was okay.
After he looked face-to-face with the Tower for a while, he blew a kiss at him – the kind where the hand was kissed first before it was then blown over.
“Fuck your mother.” The Tower immediately became angry and swore.
Jiang Cheng smiled, and ignored him.
“I notice that you’re a real jerk,” Gu Fei whispered from behind him as they returned to the court.
“Remember to make him get a foul,” Jiang Cheng said. “If he stays too long, it will be hard for us in the second half of the game.”
“As you command,” Gu Fei said.
With less than seven minutes before the end of the first half, the ball was in the hands of Class 5. They had to widen the lead in that time then adjust themselves well in the second half so that the opponents wouldn’t be able to catch up.
Jiang Cheng stared at the person that was preparing to toss the ball, and then took a mental note of what position the people on the court were.
Zhang Yuan was pretty good. Li Yan No.2, no, Tang Xi… Tang Xi’s out of nowhere moves were very quick. When others targeted him, he could rapidly escape from them, but Zhang Yuan was like a bouncing jujube. Even when Tang Xi swayed left and right several times, he was unable to shake him off.
Class 5 also had a method to their ball-playing. The jump ball was all passed to Tang Xi who would then organize a strategic offense, but since he couldn’t take the ball right now, and the rest of his team was completely overwhelmed by Class 8 in a one-to-one defense, the ball-handler didn’t actually know what to do.
After a pressing five seconds, the person behind Jiang Cheng finally winded around him and rushed to get the ball. The ball-handler hurriedly threw the ball over but because it was still a slight distance away and had not flown halfway yet, Jiang Cheng rushed to intercept between them and took it.
“The fuck!” Tang Xi shouted, “Are you fucking blind?!”
As soon as Jiang Cheng got the ball, Gu Fei had already run toward the basket. He didn’t hold onto it for long, and immediately swung it firmly, sending the ball off to Lu Xiaobin outside of the three-point line.
They had practiced this tactic during their training beforehand. Lu Xiaobin had a height advantage; after he caught the ball in the air, he did a jump shot move and gave the ball over to Gu Fei.
Gu Fei received the ball, but Class 5’s returned defense was still amazingly rapid; the Tower had already stopped in front of Gu Fei within just a matter of a few steps.
Jiang Cheng was prepared to provide support, but Wang Xu had already reached the three-second lane, and with no defense there for the time being, he could receive Gu Fei’s pass at any time.
This series of reactions, this series of cooperation, made Jiang Cheng feel very gratified and think that if Wang Xu was to come over and pat his shoulder, he wouldn’t feel disgusted.
But immediately after, Wang Xu shouted: “Da Fei, pass the ball! Da Fei, pass the ball!”
Jiang Cheng instantly had an urge to go over there and slap him. Right after he finished that sentence, the route to that pass was completely blocked.
Gu Fei was fairly accurate in his shots, but with the Tower sticking so close like this, it was hard for him to do a layup – although not having the ball be snatched by the Tower was already pretty good.
Jiang Cheng felt that it was too late to shoot for the basket, and even if he did it, it would be hard to score. With the Tower there, the rebound would not be easy to snatch either.
At that moment, Gu Fei could either pass the ball or withdraw first.
But Gu Fei suddenly made a posture as if to shoot for the basket instead.
The Tower jumped, just a split second faster than Gu Fei.
Gu Fei had only jumped after he did, and in that instant, for the sake of that tiny bit of time difference, Gu Fei kept his arm slightly down, and forcefully shot the ball out of his hands.
The ball flew almost straight up and quickly spun into the basket.
A burst of explosive shouts immediately sounded from all around.
The referee’s whistle practically followed the ball into the basket at the same time: “No. 5, hacking foul!”6
Jiang Cheng felt a series of shocks.
He scored even with that posture, at that angle!
The bastard’s initial move to shoot for the basket was actually a feint!
That Li Yata got a hacking foul!
The scoring ball led to a foul and a penalty was added at the same time. Jiang Cheng almost wanted to roar together with the audience outside of the court.
Gu Fei slowly retreated to the free-throw line7 and extended three fingers at the Tower: “Three times.”
“Fuck!” The Tower gritted his teeth and squeezed out that one word with a flushed face raging with anger.
There was basically no suspense in whether or not Gu Fei could make the free throw, but who knew if he was showing off or wanted to provoke anger as he forcefully created suspense.
After he raised the ball for the free throw, he turned his head to look at the Tower and then shot.
The whole audience shrieked, with the girls’ shrieks nearly drowning out the boys’ applause and cheers.
Jiang Cheng looked at Gu Fei. Although Gu Fei’s move was drop-dead gorgeous, his cockiness should also have a limit. He wanted to say something for Xiao Ta.
“Aren’t you being cheap?”8 Jiang Cheng said when he returned to defense with him.
“Just learning from you. He can’t stand being provoked, you know. He’s already going crazy now,” Gu Fei said. “Look, we’re not even in the second half of the game and he’s going to get four fouls.”
Gu Fei’s judgment was correct. This Li Yadong… Jiang Cheng suddenly felt extremely pleased with himself for remembering his name. Li Yadong not only had an explosive temper but was also quite strong. Before, when Wang Xu had pressured him, he still managed to get two fouls, and now that he was in such a state of emotion, it would not be difficult to make him get a foul.
If he was the Captain for Class 5, he would have replaced the player at that time, but it was obvious that Class 5 still relied on his ability to score and chose not to replace him.
When the first half was about to end, Gu Fei had the ball. Just as he passed the center line, he was blocked by the Tower. Gu Fei didn’t even have to fake a move to lure him. He simply glanced at his hands and slightly leaned forward for the Tower to lose control and slap his hand.
“No. 5, hacking foul!” the referee blew the whistle.
“He’s about to graduate!”9 someone in the audience shouted, and many others followed suit as they also heckled.
Jiang Cheng could make out that the voice was Zhou Jing’s. He glanced over and saw Zhou Jing hiding behind Lao Xu.
At the end of the first half, Li Yadong had four fouls. No matter how good he was, he wouldn’t play at the start of the second half and would definitely be left for the crucial moment.
But right now, Class 5 had fallen behind them by 9 points. If Li Yadong did not take the court, the hope of recovering the score would be slim…
What a struggle.
Jiang Cheng drank some water.
“As long as we continue to play like this in the second half, and at a steady pace, we can win!” Wang Xu said, “Think about it, not only will this be our first win, this will eliminate Class 5! Eliminate ah! Eliminating Class 5 means that the day we put Class 2 beneath our feet won’t be too far off!”
Everyone nodded excitedly.
“Are there any adjustments to our tactics?” Wang Xu asked Jiang Cheng.
“Guo Xu get on, Zhang Yuan, you rest.” Jiang Cheng said. “Li Yadong shouldn’t be going up for a while and even if he is, he won’t stay for long. Tang Xi… Wei won’t be passing the ball to him all the time anymore. I suppose he will take the ball over himself. Leave him to me and everything else stays the same.”
“Got it!” Wang Xu nodded.
In the second half, Li Yadong did not play and was replaced by a team member that was about the same height as him, though he was thinner than him by a lot. This person’s jump was not as good as Li Yadong’s, so when Gu Fei did a layup, he was completely unable to block him.
Class 8’s members all seemed to be on fire, truthfully, on fire was an inadequate description – it was simply the phoenix flame that set those on and off the court ablaze.10
The audience also seemed to have taken drugs, probably from not having anticipated seeing such an unexpected match on the first day of the competition. Their shouts completely overwhelmed the entire area, and they didn’t know which side to support. In short, they shouted when they went on offense and shrieked when they scored, there was no difference between them – they were one in spirit.11
Jiang Cheng was a person who was not easily excited, especially during a game. As soon as he played defense, he needed to calmly observe – even if he wanted to act cool, he needed to rely on skills and not emotions.
But now that the sidelines were shouting like there was a volcanic eruption, and a team like theirs could actually play to such a degree, he really couldn’t keep calm either.
“The last quarter, the last quarter.” Lao Lu had somehow gotten his hands on the microphone again, and the referee couldn’t handle him anymore. He shouted like when he scolded in class, full of strength. “Stabilize! Don’t worry! Go steady and strike hard!!”
There were only ten minutes left, and even with the additional overtime, it still wasn’t much. With Class 8 risking it all, and Class 5 also in the same circumstance, the score was not widened to a 15 points difference like Jiang Cheng had hoped – it was only 13 points at the moment.
Class 5 switched Li Yadong back into the game, and Jiang Cheng had the ball. If this ball could be guaranteed to be scored by Gu Fei, 15 points could psychologically destroy the team members in Class 5.
He quickly passed the ball over to Guo Xu, who was ahead of him to the right, when Tang Xi came over to block him.
At this moment, as if by the will of God, Guo Xu didn’t even hold onto the ball for long when he got it. When Tang Xi turned his head to look, he passed the ball from above back to Jiang Cheng, who had already passed by Tang Xi.
“A beautiful pass!” Wang Xu roared.
Jiang Cheng took the ball and continued to advance forward, but Tang Xi was extremely quick, and blocked his path once more.
At that second, Jiang Cheng wished that Tang Xi was in Class 8. That kind of speed and reaction… he glanced to the left, and as expected, Tang Xi tilted his body slightly over to that side; he was too emotionally excited, and the shortcoming of reacting too quickly lied precisely here.
I just faked a move yo!
Jiang Cheng rushed over from the right with the ball and saw Gu Fei, who had entered the three-point line… and also coming from the right to intercept was Li Yadong’s foot.
What the hell! Fuck your uncle in the Southern Heavenly Gates!!
Jiang Cheng stepped on Li Yadong’s foot with his left foot but couldn’t step forward with his right foot. His whole body suddenly lost balance and fell to the left.
But before he fell to the ground, he gritted his teeth and swung the ball in his hand over to Gu Fei.
Then he fell heavily on the ground and his elbow slid more than a meter away.
The shouts from the surroundings heightened once more. He wasn’t sure if the screams and shouts were due to Gu Fei’s beautiful layup or that he fell hard, unable to stand for a few seconds.
“Jiang Cheng!” Wang Xu was anxious and rushed over.
“Idiot.” Jiang Cheng pushed him, “Return to defense!”
Class 5 started the ball relatively quickly, and Tang Xi had already passed by them at that moment.
“Good no-call!”12 Jiang Cheng shouted, “Wang Xu, return to defense!”
“Fuck!” Wang Xu got up and ran over there.
Jiang Cheng stood up, and Gu Fei looked back at him. He shook his head, there was no problem with his feet —he had protection— but he fell on the injured rib from before and was a bit stunned.
This ball, everyone held it with hot anger.
Jiang Cheng had just crossed the center line when Li Yadong, who had wanted to shoot for the basket, was kept in control by Gu Fei’s perfect block, and the ball was soon in the hands of Lu Xiaobin.
“Jiang Cheng—” Lu Xiaobin roared, full of aspiration and boldness as he passed the ball over to Jiang Cheng.
He wasn’t sure if it was because they previously had a score of 5:4, but Class 5 believed that scoring these two points was a definite thing to solidify a win. When the ball was in Jiang Cheng’s hands, Tang Xi, who was the closest to him, was still at the three-point line of their team’s basket.
With the ball in his hand, Jiang Cheng turned around and took a few steps, then stopped on his toes at the three-point line.
As he prepared to make the shot, he glanced back at the few people in Class 5 who had rushed over and then calmly cast the ball.
The ball drew a long arc in the air – Jiang Cheng raised three fingers, and as the ball fell into the basket, he pressed his fingers down.
In the sea of applause and cheers that erupted from the sidelines he could hear Lao Xu’s broken voice shouting “nice shot”. He glanced into the crowd of excited faces, and Lao Xu’s was the most conspicuous. He was so excited that his face was even redder than those who had actually played in the game.
The score was widened to 16 points, and now there wasn’t much time left in the last quarter. Even without him and Gu Fei, the points were unlikely to be recovered.
“Slow down.” Gu Fei glanced at the timer.
In this case, there was no longer a need to rush to score. They could play even more steadily than before and the ball could leave their hands with the time calculated precisely.
The people on Class 5 were already discouraged, and although each and every one of them was brimming with anger, there was no chance for them to explode.
Gu Fei and Jiang Cheng controlled the ball and firmly pressed toward the basket. During this period, Class 5 scored four points, but Gu Fei gave up on the two points and passed the ball to Jiang Cheng twice to cast three-point shots instead.
Jiang Cheng could feel the sound waves around him every time he made a three-point shot.
He was never that smug when he played in the competitions for his previous school team.
In the end, amid an atmosphere of extreme excitement, the whistle that ended the whole scene sounded.
Gu Fei, who was holding the ball in his hand and was standing only a few steps from the three-point line, vigorously cast the ball toward the basket.
“It’s not over!” Jiang Cheng looked at the ball that bounced on the backboard and entered the basket.
“Ahhhh—” Wang Xu’s voice was especially resounding in the space that was filled with cheers.
As soon as Jiang Cheng turned his head, he saw him rush over with open arms, and without waiting for a reaction, he had already hugged Gu Fei and even kissed him fiercely on the face.
“Fuck off!” Gu Fei pushed him and then rubbed his face a few times.
“Don’t touch me!” Jiang Cheng shouted and immediately pointed at him when he saw Wang Xu turn around.
“Ahh—” Wang Xu was undaunted by danger13 as he pounced over, hugged, and kissed him.
“You fucker!” Jiang Cheng seemed to have been whipped as he made use of all his limbs to push Wang Xu aside.
Wang Xu didn’t care as he hugged and kissed all the players one by one in ecstasy.
The whole class was wild with excitement and gathered around the court, grabbing onto people ‘till they turned into one screaming crowd. This kind of mood was probably only felt by this super weak chicken class that had never won any game in any school competition.
“Hey,” Gu Fei came to him and spread open his arms. “I haven’t played such a cool ballgame in a long time.”
Jiang Cheng looked at him, hesitated, and then opened his arms to hug him. “Me too.”
“Is your leg okay?” Gu Fei patted his back.
“It’s fine,” Jiang Cheng smiled.
This hug felt very… comfortable.
Carrying tacit understanding and appreciation, as well as a “closeness” they had that was different from that with anybody else, even though the brief moment that Jiang Cheng brushed against Gu Fei had the face from the night when Gu Fei was practically glued to him flashed before his eyes, and the face of Gu Fei who donned a halo beneath the sunlight followed after… he still felt – calm.
He didn’t know why he would describe a hug as ‘calm’, but this was really the first time he was in such close contact with someone aside from Pan Zhi in a very long time.
He could even feel the tip of his hair sweep Gu Fei’s face.
However, there was no awkwardness or resistance.
“Go, go, go,” Lao Xu excitedly waved his arm after the people in the class dispersed. “Lao Lu and I are taking you all out for dinner. We’ll treat you to something good!”
“I want to eat hot pot,” Wang Xu said. “No, I want to eat grilled meat… ah, Mongolian fire pot isn’t bad either…”
A group of people followed Lao Xu and Lao Lu to go out, with the feeling of their blood boiling in their veins hadn’t yet passed; at this moment, it was all spent on discussing what to eat.
“Ummm, there’s something I want to ask you.” Gu Fei and Jiang Cheng walked side by side.
“En, what is it?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“Do you want to make money?” Gu Fei asked.
“Ah?” Jiang Cheng froze and looked at Gu Fei.
Gu Fei suddenly asking “do you want to make money” without rhyme or reason made him immediately think of a mommy talking to an ignorant girl.
He almost wanted to say, “No, I’m still young”.
1 A single-elimination, knockout, or sudden death tournament is a type of elimination tournament where the loser of each match-up is immediately eliminated from the tournament.
2 Dark horse – 黑马 is the unexpected winner
3 吃瓜群众 (melon-eating masses) – a term whose closest equivalent is possibly “popcorn gallery”, its fullest expression is “the melon-eating masses who don’t know what’s really going on”. Its origin is unclear, but netizens often use this – sometimes derogatorily – to describe a passive group of bystanders at a major incident or event
4 唐希伟不叫糖稀 (He’s Tang Xiwei, not Tang Xi) – Tang(唐 in vain/empty) Xi(希 to hope) wei(伟 grand), not Tang(糖 sweet) Xi(稀 rare/uncommon): the characters used are in different tones which changes the meaning of his name.
5 李亚塔 (Li Yata) Li Yadong – Jiang Cheng kept on saying 塔 (Ta) which means Tower
6 Hacking – refers to a foul where a player is struck on the arm while shooting. Such a foul generally leads to a missed shot and free throws for the opponent.
7 Free-throw line – or foul shots are unopposed attempts to score points by shooting from behind the free throw line (informally known as the foul line or the charity stripe), a line situated at the end of the restricted area. Free throws are awarded after a foul on the shooter by the opposing team.
8 Cheap (贱) – despicable in this context
9 He’s about to graduate! 要毕业喽 – as in he’s going to be done/finished – the 喽 ‘lou’ at the end is used to call for attention to, or mildly warning of, a situation
10 打了鸡血，鸡血都不够形容，简直是凤凰血 – “… on fire, truthfully, on fire as an inadequate description – it was simply the phoenix flame…” the direct translation: “… seemed as though they were injected with chicken blood, but chicken blood was not enough to describe it, it was simply a phoenix blood….”
11 there was no difference between them – they were one in spirit (不分你我，你中有我我中有你): “they” refers to them (the players) and the audience were one in spirit. – not very literal, but this slang really can’t be translated directly. lit: “there is no difference between you and me, you are within me and I am within you”.
12 Calls – when the refer call for a violation or foul
13 Undaunted by dangers (奋不顾身) – to dash on bravely with no thought of personal safety